Eight of every 10 Utah voters say it is important for Congress to enact immigration reform this year, and three of every four even favor creating a legal status for undocumented immigrants as part of it, according to a new survey released by pro-reform business groups.
The Harper Polling survey of 501 Utahns, conducted June 25-26, was released Wednesday as part of a "national day of action" by such groups.
They also held a roundtable Wednesday at the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce designed to argue, along with the survey results, that it makes political sense to enact reform quickly and that delay will hurt the Utah economy.
"The American public is a little bit puzzled as to why we have not yet reached a solution in immigration reform, and why it is taking so long for congressional leaders to this change," said Tim Wheelright, an immigration lawyer who moderated the roundtable.
Their survey said that 91 percent of Utahns believe the immigration system is broken, 83 percent say passing immigration reform this year is important, and 74 percent want a presidential candidate from a party that supports reform.
It also said 76 percent favor creating legal status for undocumented immigrants, and 74 percent say trying to blame the Obama administration’s current enforcement of immigration laws as a reason to block reform is not valid.
"It’s time to show some backbone and some leadership on this issue, and that’s our expectation for Utah’s congressional delegation," said Jason Mathis, vice president of the Downtown Alliance/Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. "There is no excuse for Congress to bail out on this issue."
"It’s like we’re in an odd episode of Ground Hog Day," with the debate the same day after day for years with no change, said state Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City.
Groups outlined — as they have for months and years — why they say lack of reform is hurting the Utah economy and its residents.
Leland Hogan, president of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, said because of too-low visa quotas, farmers and ranchers have a hard time finding enough workers to help with harvests and other work.
"With immigrants making up to 80 percent of hired-farm labor, our farmers desperately need a stable, legal work force to continue producing an abundant, safe and affordable food supply," he said.
Val Hale, president and CEO of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce, said "There are literally thousands of unfilled jobs in Utah County right now," and immigrants are needed to fill them to allow businesses to grow.
The labor needs are especially critical in high-tech industries that would like to hire college students educated here, he said.
But those students often are forced by immigration laws and low quotas to return to their home countries and compete abroad against businesses here.
"We have de facto amnesty today in this country," said Stan Lockhart, government affairs manager for Micron and IM Flash and a former chairman of the Utah Republican Party.
He is also married to Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo.
He said Americans "turn our heads and close our eyes and allow people to stay here, as long as they are in the shadows and don’t stand up and try to participate in our society."
He said it is immoral, wrong and the problem needs to be solved — including giving undocumented immigrants a path to legal residency.
"We find that people who come from other countries and risk life … to get here are good hard workers," Melva Sine, president and CEO of the Utah Restaurant Association, said. "They are good solid people. They just want that opportunity… We need to provide them a way."
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